April 28 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would sign an executive order under the Defense Production Act to make meat processing plants stay open amid the pandemic.
"We're going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that'll solve any liability problems," Trump said.
The order comes amid farmers fearing that the $19 billion in aid to cope with the coronavirus pandemic won't be enough because of widespread closures due to virus outbreaks.
It also comes about a week after Tyson Foods suspended operations at its Waterloo, Iowa, plant after almost 200 out of 2,800 workers tested positive for COVID-I9.
The company, based in Springdale, Ark., which is one of the world's largest food companies, said that workers would continued to be paid while the plant was closed.
Tyson is among more than a dozen meat plants that have closed since the start of the pandemic.
Due to closures, Howard AV Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council, said last week farms are so crowded there are hog farmers who have started to kill pigs they can't sell to slaughterhouses.
The executive order Trump plans to sign will declare the meat processing plants as critical infrastructure.
The Trump administration is working with the Department of Labor to issue guidance on which employees should stay home, including vulnerable populations.
In March, consumer demand for meat surged across the country, but the closures since then have resulted in reduced capacity to process meat.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit organization with focus on conservation, criticized Trump's statement that he would order meat plants to remain open.
"It doesn't get more Trumponian than shielding meatpacking companies' profits at the expense of worker protections," the center's director, Stephanie Feldstein, said in a statement. "Even before the pandemic hit, Trump's USDA had gutted federal oversight of hog slaughterhouses and was routinely approving waivers for chicken plants that exceeded federal safety limits for slaughter line speeds. And now Trump is willing to sacrifice workers' lives to prop up the nation's inhumane and environmentally destructive addiction to meat."
Still, Trump has urged hospitals and states to take the lead in getting other supplies. In response, nurses protested last week to demand Trump use the DPA to produce personal protective equipment for health workers who care for COVID-19 patients.